How security became one of the smart city’s most critical applications

Public safety has become a top priority for municipal governments around the world

Beyond the dangers specific to COVID, many community issues have been exacerbated in light of the pandemic – from civil unrest to the digital divide for underserved communities. The challenges faced in 2020 tested the ability of city leaders to respond to the unexpected.

To help identify and take action against current and future threats to public safety, smart city technology is a critical resource for city leaders. These solutions, powered by IoT infrastructures, use correlated sensor data from devices such as methane detectors, pole tilt sensors, power line sensors and air quality devices to predict imminent danger and react more effectively to ensure the safety of the community.

Although funding for smart city programs slowed at the start of the pandemic last year, many municipalities have reallocated their budgets to address safety issues – and this trend is not expected to slow. As cities emerge from crisis mode, we will see more and more financial institutions taking an interest in the smart city industry. We’ll also see a flow of federal money coming in to help, given Biden’s infrastructure plan and beyond. Below, we outline a few different apps that will help city leaders lead public safety initiatives.

Natural disasters

For cities, it can be difficult to ensure the safety of citizens and workers in the event of a natural disaster. Incidents such as hurricanes, floods, fires and gas leaks are unpredictable and often impossible to prevent. To put it in perspective, most people have experienced a disaster, with 87% of consumers reporting having been affected by a disaster in the past five years (not counting the COVID pandemic). Security will only become more critical over the coming decades as natural disasters become more frequent, intense and costly. Since 1970, the number of disasters worldwide has more than quadrupled to around 400 per year. Since 1998, natural disasters around the world have killed more than 1.3 million people and left 4.4 billion injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance.

Smart sensors and advanced analytics can help communities better predict, prepare for, and respond to these emergencies. For example, IoT sensors, such as pole tilt, power distribution line, leak detection, and air quality sensors, can be used to mitigate risk and minimize damage. Using sensors in tandem with predictive analytics, city governments can detect problems and get results during and after natural disasters, such as leak detection and remote shutdown of water pipes; detect if a pole is down to prevent safety risks and promote faster recovery efforts; issue alerts to communicate quickly with citizens, providing the most recent information to ensure their safety; and use smart evacuation planning to better direct traffic and get people out of harm’s way quickly. For example, when forest fires threaten regional air quality, communities can use smart sensors to predict which areas will be most affected and alert neighboring populations.

Gas leaks

In densely populated areas, it is vital that cities can monitor gas risks and ensure the safety of their populations. Natural gas leaks resulting from earthquakes, dilapidated infrastructure or other factors are dangerous events that cities must watch and react with vigilance. Methane detectors allow cities and utilities to predict imminent danger, respond and recover faster and more accurately, or in some cases even predict and prevent unsafe conditions altogether.

For example, using a built-in high flow alarm and temperature sensor, smart gas meters can help cities quickly recognize an open fuel line, heat, or unusual flow conditions. In the event of a potentially hazardous event, these sensors can detect the hazard and alert affected parties, such as first responders, to clear the area before hazardous situations occur. Additionally, to provide greater safety for first responders and other workers, smart gas meters can virtually shut off the flow of natural gas in an emergency. Utility workers are usually the first to arrive when a leak or unusual condition is detected in the gas network. With remote safety shutdown, cities can prevent unsafe conditions for their workers.


A smart city is a city that integrates technology to improve the social, environmental and economic aspects of its services to the community. It is an evolutionary process that involves an ongoing commitment to innovation on the part of the city and the community with a long-term perspective. In addition to the global impact of COVID on daily operations, the United States has also experienced the worst impact of the hurricane season to date and a record impact of wildfires in California. As cities, municipalities and utilities seek to improve their services and the safety of their citizens in these unprecedented times, smart city technology will become more important to better prepare for and respond to the next security hazard.

About the Author

Dan Evans is responsible for smart cities and IoT at Itron. Itron enables utilities and cities to safely, securely and reliably deliver critical infrastructure services to communities in more than 100 countries. Our proven portfolio of smart grids, software, services, meters and sensors help our customers better manage energy and water for the people they serve.